As a former elected official, I always get excited about election season, and this November is no different. Though we will not be electing national or statewide leaders this fall, we will be doing something perhaps more important — electing the local leaders that make the greatest impact on our daily lives. In many municipalities across the state, important decisions regarding who leads our cities and towns will be made in the coming days and weeks.

Traditionally, voter turnout drops dramatically in “off-year” municipal elections, perhaps because they lack the drama, media coverage and large audiences of federal elections — not to mention the millions of dollars that national campaigns spend on advertising. 

Additionally, we sometimes tend to equate the size of leaders’ borders with their influence. Because of their comparatively small geographic sphere of power, voting for a city council member or a small town’s mayor usually fails to evoke the same enthusiasm and excitement as voting for the president of the United States. That is likely why 89% of Utah County’s registered voters cast ballots in the 2020 presidential election, but only 33% voted in the municipal elections a year later. 

Those municipal voter turnout numbers are disappointing. We can and should do better.

You may have heard the saying “all politics are local.” While national politics may incite more passionate dialogue and headlines, the decisions that most directly affect our local lives are usually made by our local elected officials. Therefore, the most important elections are the ones that determine those officials.

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When we vote in municipal elections, we should do so with careful consideration. Last year, in my hometown of Orem, we had a ballot initiative that generated considerable interest and attention. I overheard some in the community say that they had never paid close attention to local politics. The public debate surrounding the initiative and its potential consequences opened their eyes to the significance of local elections and the importance of electing leaders who share their personal political ideals and philosophies. They committed to being more thoughtful and diligent in learning about candidates and how they would vote on key issues in the future.

My fellow Utahns, I urge you to vote in this year’s elections — both the primary election on Sept. 5 and the general election on Nov. 21. 

With Utah’s secure vote-by-mail system, voting has never been easier. Weeks before primary and general election days, Utah automatically mails a ballot to every registered voter. An envelope should already have arrived in your mailbox. 

Voting this way gives you time to study the candidates, mark your ballot, and simply put it back in the mail. In little time and without any hassle to yourself, you will have completed one of the most important civic duties for the year and helped shape your community’s future.

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In addition to voting, I encourage each of you to do your homework and become an informed voter. Take time to research ballot initiatives and vet the candidates so you know what they stand for and how they will represent you in the coming years. 

Being an informed citizen will make a lasting difference. From land use and development to roads and trails, your local leaders are faced with decisions that will impact your community for generations, and your ballot allows you to have a part in those decisions.

Please open your ballot envelope today and start considering your choices. Do your research. Cast your vote. It is something we all can and should do.

Gary R. Herbert is a former governor of Utah, serving from 2009 to 2021.

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